Data Protection Commissioner says data retention must be limited to serious crime

At the launch of the Data Protection Commissioner’s 2005 Annual Report today Mr. Billy Hawkes, the Commissioner, strongly criticised the current Data Protection laws and suggested in his report that the implementation of the European Data Retention Directive into Irish law ought to be used by the government as an opportunity to revisit some of the provisions passed last year.

Specifically, the Data Protection Commissioner suggested that

“it would be helpful if the revised Irish legislation limited the right of Garda access to cases of serious crime and if the safeguards against potential abuse of such access rights were strengthened.”

The significance of this was made clear today when Mr. Hawkes revealed that the call details of hundreds of calls were being accessed by the Gardaí every month.

This is worrying. The data retention legislation was introduced on the basis that it was necessary to deal with serious crime and terrorism and would be used sparingly. Instead, the Data Protection Commissioner’s comments suggest that it’s being used as a matter of course.

In fact, as the law stands Gardaí do not require even to be investigating a specific crime to gain access to call data under these provisions. Access to the call records of everyone in the state is granted on the basis that it may be needed to prevent crime. This is an issue which affects the personal privacy of everyone in the state.

In a press release in response we said:

“Under Irish law, your telephone records are being stored for three years. This includes the location of your mobile phone at all times. The Garda can find out who you rang or where you were up to three years ago without any approval from a judge: all that is required is the signature of a senior garda. The comments of the Data Protection Commissioner about the manner in which this power is being used are worrying. The law must be changed to limit disclosure to serious offences only and to ensure that information is only disclosed where it is genuinely necessary. We must make sure that the phone records of innocent citizens are not revealed indiscriminately.”